UTOPIA IS NOT COMING:
The Legacy of Shimon Peres (1923-2016.)
By Paul Merkley.
September 13, 1993.
All journalistic commentary on the passing of Shimon Peres led with his role in developing and promoting the Oslo Accord.
This diplomatic agreement between the Government of Israel and the terrorist Palestinian Liberation Organization was signed on September 13, 1993, on the White House Lawn, before an immediate audience comprising the entire Congress of the United States, plus the entire diplomatic corps, several foreign dignitaries, the Supreme Court and many others — to a total of 3,000 guests. A worldwide audience of perhaps as many as one billion watched it all in real time.
Shimon Peres and Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) signed as the respective “Foreign Ministers,” while Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Chairman Arafat looked on. On the prompting of Prime Minister Rabin, the entire Congress of the United States was seen and heard to utter “Amen” before the whole world — a thing so improbable that many wept.
At that moment, every person of goodwill in the whole world seemed ready to believe that the lion had lain down with the lamb. Rabin, in the second edition of his memoirs, which appeared in 1994, sets the Oslo Process in the context of recent fast-paced political events including the collapse of the Soviet Empire: “The world is turning upside-down before our eyes: the globes and atlases in your homes have become archeological findings ….We are undergoing the revolution of peace.” A little later (May, 1994), Shimon Peres proclaimed: “Today we have ended the Arab-Israeli conflict. Utopia is coming.” Jerusalem Post, June 4, 1994.
The Legacy of Oslo.
Indeed … they have seduced My people, saying, ‘Peace!’ when there is no peace (Ezekiel 13:10 [NKJV.])
At the moment of its announcement, I was among the minority who believed that a great mistake was being made. It is safe to say that today a majority would agree. The deal had the effect of picking-up and dusting-off Israel’s most unscrupulous enemy and establishing him legally and with guarantees of impunity in a part of what had been Biblical Israel. And it did so at the very moment when Arafat’s credit in the Arab world had almost vanished. Arafat had rushed to Baghdad to proclaim his support for Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait, while the rest of the Arab world was joining with the United States for the purpose of rescuing Kuwait; accordingly, he had lost the support of the Arab leaders. His funds were drying up. Yet this was the moment when Israel’s Labour government chose to transform him into a statesman.
Some have spoken of the “criminal naiveté” that took hold of Israeli, American and British politicians while under the spell of Oslo. But outsiders have not had to pay the price of its failure. Peres never came anywhere near admitting that Oslo was a mistake. Indeed, he dedicated his best energies through another two decades and more to proving that that moment on the White House lawn would still be recaptured, if we all tried hard enough.
An Exceptionally Long Political Career.
It is hard to grasp but true: Shimon Peres was in the world longer than Israel, the State to which he had devoted his life’s work. (Mind you, any of us over sixty-five, retirement age, can say the same.) In 1948, at the age of 25, Peres played a role in the Jews’ heroic defense of the new nation – a part that qualifies for mention in the footnotes of the best history books.
I was drawn to the study of the Zionism in considerable part because I believed that I saw there men of heroic stature – beginning with Theodor Herzl, through Chaim Weizmann, David Ben-Gurion and Menachem Begin to mention only a few – all conspicuous in a generation whose most eminent leaders declined steadily in stature the moment World War Two ended.
Israel’s Prime Ministers were the best-prepared men for political leadership of their generation. They had all paid huge costs on the way to acquiring political power.
As a community and as individuals, Jews who became Israelis all began life with major disadvantages but with parents who valued education and accomplishment. They were products of Jewish culture which, almost uniquely in the present world, puts pre-eminent value upon learning and excellence of accomplishment. Typically, the Zionist leaders acquired mastery of at least two languages, besides the one that they heard at home. Shimon Peres was born in Poland, in a home where Hebrew, Yiddish and Russian were spoken; he learned Polish at school, and went on to speak English and French. He was always adding new areas of scholarly and professional interest to his curriculum vitae. In the early 1950s, while serving Israel’s Government in Britain and then in the U.S., he studied English, Economics, philosophy and then advanced management at the most prestigious universities. This weighty intellectual accomplishment should be set beside the academic and intellectual records of recent American Presidents – most of them long on Business or Law and the shallowest of the social sciences, all of them devoid of traditional academics.
To overcome the disadvantages that belonged to Polish Jews as a community, Peres’ family moved in 1932 to the British Mandate of Palestine, settling first in Tel Aviv. The relatives they left behind in Poland all perished in the Holocaust – a circumstance that underwrote the survivors’ serious approach to life.
Educated in the secular school system of Mandate Palestine, Peres was drawn at age 15 to socialism, joining the youth wing of Mapai. Though never a soldier, he was among the founders of the Israel Defense Forces. When the Arab nations ganged up to strangle Israel in its cradle, he was put in charge of personnel and arms purchases; this marked the first step in a long career of negotiating purchases of vital military equipment from Israel’s friends among the nation while building strength against enemies who never contemplated living in peace with Jews.
His political career began in 1959 when he was elected to the Knesset and it went on through an incredible history of victories and defeats – including three brief episodes, totalling about ten months, as Prime Minister.
The Bottom Line.
For most people, Peres’ place in the history books is all bound up in the story of the Oslo Accords. He is generally credited with playing the largest role in their creation and he remained their most passionate defender even though they brought down upon Israel two major periods of Intifada, conceived in the neighbourhoods for which Arafat’s gang had cynically undertaken responsibility and causing the deaths of around 2000 Israelis. Likewise, Peres took a leading role in defending Sharon’s withdrawal from Gaza (2005) — another gormless retreat from realism that installed Israel’s longest-running terrorist enemy in possession of the house next door – where they have been joined by all the newly-invented, petro-funded, Islamist gangs of the 1990s and since.
What is the bottom line? There was no way for Peres to disengage his ego from that shining moment on the white House Lawn. In the last three decades of his life he willfully closed his eyes to the great error that was bound up in the Oslo deal and fixated upon the notion that his own legacy required that the rest of us should rally around a cause that most of the world gave up on long ago.
Peres lived a long and valuable and honorable life, but his own Finest Hour ended in Israel’s beginning.